Home  Snow Sarah Burke Tribute

In loving memory of Sarah Burke

 

January 19th, 2012

Sarah Burke was a fighter

I believe that is how she would have wanted to be remembered; she would not want to be remembered simply by a list (although it would be a very long one) of contest wins, groundbreaking halfpipe tricks and "firsts" by a woman. Those are details. Sarah's life was about the bigger moments, about so much more than being the best woman in the sport of freeskiing.

For Sarah, success was about others as much as it was about herself. It was about fighting to make sure other women had the opportunity to compete against her, to one day break her records and compete on the same level as men. Since she buckled into her first pair of plastic boots at the age of 5, Burke was a skier by trade but a fighter by nature.

Sarah Burke, a pioneer in women's freeskiing, died Thursday from crash-related injuries. She began her ski career by competing in moguls around her hometown of Midland, Ontario. But her love of tricks, her love of flying and spinning and attempting things no one else seemed daring enough to attempt, drew her to the halfpipe and slopestyle scene.

When she first started showing up at contests as a teen, she often was turned away because the events didn't include divisions for girls. Undeterred, she fought to compete against the boys until more women were inspired to join her, and contest organizers began creating divisions for Sarah and her friends. She pressed the X Games to include women's skiing slopestyle, which organizers added to the event in 2009, and vocally campaigned for her sport's inclusion in the Winter Olympics.

In her nearly 15 years in the sport, Burke spent as much time fighting for equality as she did fighting to stick the landings on some of the most innovative tricks ever attempted by a woman. She was a four-time Winter X Games gold medalist, the first skier to win an ESPY, and the first woman to land a 720, 900 and 1080 in competition. In 2009, she became the first woman to attempt a 1260 in competition, but crashed on the attempt. It is a trick she never landed in front of a crowd, but her determination to propel herself beyond current boundaries motivated younger women to push themselves. Even when she wasn't fulfilling her own goals, Sarah was pushing others to fulfill theirs.

She was the most famous athlete in her sport and yet, somehow, also the most accessible. She was always up for anything.

It must also be said that she was beautiful, in all the superficial ways and in the ways that matter most. She was funny and carefree and welcoming, the type of person you could meet once and remember forever. She had a smile that landed her on magazine covers and, once, on People's Most Beautiful list. But her beauty was a thin veil for a fiery toughness that allowed her to fight through a broken back, shoulder surgery, a torn MCL, and countless other breaks and sprains.

To Sarah, injuries were footnotes. It was the fight that mattered most. So when the International Olympic Committee announced last year it would add halfpipe and slopestyle skiing to the 2014 Winter Games, no one was prouder to have the opportunity to represent her country than Burke. And not simply because she would be the odds-on favorite to win in the halfpipe, but because she knew how hard a fight it had been to get there. When athletes from around the world, many of them her friends, compete in those inaugural competitions, they will do so knowing Sarah had much to do with winning that fight.

But on Thursday, surrounded by her friends, family, and husband and fellow skier, Rory Bushfield, Sarah lost the final fight of her life at age 29. After suffering a head injury in a training accident in the Park City Mountain halfpipe Jan. 10, she underwent neurosurgery to repair a tear in one of the four major arteries to her brain. She remained in a coma following surgery, and later tests revealed that the brain damage she had suffered was irreversible.

Nine days after her accident, Sarah was taken off life support, but not before she made one final act to better the lives of those she leaves behind. In accordance with Sarah's wishes, her organs and tissue were donated, a decision that will surely save several lives.

In many ways, I think Sarah would consider that a win.

From close personal friend, Alyssa Roegnik.

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Sarah was an icon not only for Roxy but also for freeskiing. I can honestly say she was the best in her field but that wasn't what defined her. More importantly, she was known for the love she inspired in others. She was well-loved but she loved in return. Sarah was a giver and that's the legacy she left behind.

Bob McKnight, CEO Quiksilver

"Sarah taught me my first 540. She is the reason I quit ski racing and gave me the inspiration to do what I do today. She was my role model and mentor. My best days on snow were skiing with Sarah. One of the funniest memories I have is when we use to blast our music through our headphones and just belt out singing, no matter if we knew who was sitting next to us on the chair or not. We just acted like us."

Grete Eliassen, Professional Freeskier

Sarah was an amazing person. She was love and light. She inspired a smile on your face every time she entered a room and it's that feeling of happiness that I remember most about Sarah."

Randy Hild, former EVP Marketing, Roxy

"Sarah was a wise old soul. She possessed an ease and self-confidence that most people take a lifetime to arrive at. But when she was on her skis she was a force, and for that I'm forever grateful. Because of what Sarah accomplished, I - and women and girls everywhere know that the perceived glass ceiling on a woman's physical limits can be shattered. We can believe in ourselves a little more and push past our abilities because Sarah showed us it was possible."

Amber Stackhouse, Roxy Snow Team & Marketing Manager

"I remember admiring Sarah's spirit long before she even became a Roxy team rider. Once I finally got to know her, I soon realized she had always been a Roxy girl at heart. Driven, passionate, loving, happy and best of all she lived life to the fullest. She was a friend, an inspiration for all of us, and an amazing part of our family. She will be deeply missed, but never forgotten. She will forever be carved in our hearts."

Danielle Beck, Roxy VP of Marketing

"Sarah lit up the world with her smile and drove it with her perseverance and determination. She did and always will remind me that really, anything is possible. Always dream. For that, I am eternally grateful. She will be in my heart forever."

Kaya Turski, 2012 X Games Gold Medalist in Freeskiing

"Beautiful, infectious, radiant, brilliant, and that just describes her smile! Blessed to have met her, better person to have known her, and will live the rest of my life to be as kind, happy and honest as her!"

Michael T. Spencer, Wasserman Media Group

"She was Sarah Burkes, Burger, my stunt dancer, my wing woman in the freeskiing world, and one of my best friends. Skiing will never be the same to me without her. It's easy to ski for Sarah, so don't just ski for her, dance for Sarah, jump out and scare your friends, be a little tougher because she would be, be spontaneous, get creative for Sarah, do something you've never done before for Sarah, because that's who she was."

Kristi Lesikinen, Professional Freeskier

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To Pay tribute to Sarah please go to www.sarahburkefoundation.com